During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, many millions of people have seen their bank accounts shrink and their waistlines grow. Isn’t it surprising how being stuck at home almost always results in eating more? You are probably now setting yourself some fitness goals and are looking at a cool new fitness tracker to help you shed the pounds and put the junk food behind you.
Speaking of junk, I cannot escape this nagging feeling that fitness trackers really are not very good! I know, that’s a controversial opinion considering how popular these little wearable devices are. In fact, I am still not sure of my thoughts because, like many people, I have become attached to my fitness tracker.
I have fallen into the trap of believing without my tracker, my whole exercise and diet regimen will fall apart. However, when I stop to think about it, I realize that’s nonsense. Trying to sort through my own confusion on fitness trackers, I have decided to take a close look to see if they are helpful or just pointless.
What Do Fitness Trackers Do?
As the name suggests, a fitness tracker will, well, track your fitness. Across a range of metrics, the wearable sits on your wrist and charts your exercise based on your customized goals. Trackers leverage GPS to understand distances you are walking, running, or swimming, and at what speeds. They can also track static workouts, such as yoga and weightlifting.
With the tracking data, the wearable passes the information to an accompanying smartphone application where you can see calorie counters, health data like heart rate and stress levels, and see maps of your workouts. Furthermore, a fitness tracker, like the Fitbit Inspire 2, will usually allow you to monitor your sleep patterns.
So, Do They Really Do All That?
Those features sound amazing, and yes, fitness trackers do all those things… to varying degrees of success. Let’s take GPS, something that is lacking in most standard fitness trackers. This means to track your runs or walks; your fitness tracker needs to be tethered to your phone through Bluetooth so it can mooch off your handset’s GPS.
The good news is, when working through your phone to track workouts, fitness trackers are solid at accurately charting your distances, speed, and in many cases automatically knowing what activity you were doing.
Then there’s the sleep tracking, something that is so wildly inaccurate that when someone says they use this feature effectively, I think they must be lying.
Who Are Fitness Trackers For?
Tech companies would have you believe they are for everyone, but the reality is they may be for no-one. Think of it like this, if you are trying to shed a few pounds or get into shape before that party next month, what does tracking your fitness actually achieve? One of the most interesting things about fitness trackers is people start to believe the device is playing an active role in their fitness successes.
That’s just not true. You don’t need a fitness tracker to get fit… how did people 10 years ago manage?
Maybe there is an argument that fitness trackers are for the mega-fit, the athletes of the world. Again, that does not work because the general accuracy of cheap fitness trackers is not enough for athletes. These are people who need to monitor themselves on a granular level that fitness trackers cannot provide.
Could I Just Use My Phone?
Yes, you could. And that’s one of the reasons why fitness trackers are pointless. Everything your fitness tracker does, your phone will also do, including tracking workouts, sleep, weight loss, etc. When you consider you also need to connect a wearable to your phone, it seems the fitness tracker is adding an unnecessary link in the chain.
Smartwatch vs. Fitness Tracker
Smartwatch devices are different. Firstly, they do a lot more besides fitness tracking such as allow you to have quick access to your phone without needing to remove it from a pocket or bag. Secondly, many of the best smartwatches are available with GPS built-in. Yes, that means when you head out for a workout, you can leave your phone at home. Only a few fitness trackers have this ability.
Should I Avoid Buying A Fitness Tracker?
I want to lay it on the line… I think fitness trackers are pointless. At the same time, I can still understand why people buy them. There are two clear reasons I see that you could use for getting a fitness tracker:
- They are affordable, mostly work, and sometimes it’s nice to have some cool tech.
- For the under-motivated, having something tracking you and visible on your wrist could get you off the couch and into the gym.
Still, my advice would be to avoid fitness trackers. They are not junk, but they are also not worthwhile devices. If you like wearables and want to track your fitness, buy a smartwatch instead.